It’s a pretty safe bet the entire music world was rocked by the death of legendary music icon Prince on April 21, 2016.
A year after his death this past April 21, #RIPPrince was still trending on Twitter as celebrities, leaders, news organizations and music fans around the country paid tribute to the “Purple Rain” singer.
I thought about his death a lot: What it meant for my mom, a huge fan, and the neighboring Minneapolis community, but somehow it never hit me how journalists who had covered Prince were reacting. I know, an entertainment writer myself, it seems foolish to overlook this.
On Wednesday I volunteered with the Chippewa Valley Book Festival to sell books for a speaking event by Jim Walsh, a former reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press who covered Prince in the 1990s.
Listening to him share stories about the music icon as though he was a friend allowed me to see a side of Prince I never really considered — the human side.
Walsh shared excerpts from his 2017 book “Gold Experience: Covering Prince in the ‘90s.” The book is really a collection of nearly all the articles Walsh wrote for the Pioneer Press, with an introduction that expresses Walsh’s intimate reaction to the singer’s death when he heard about it on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current.
“He was the same age I was when he died, and I couldn’t let his stories die, too,” Walsh said at the event on why he had to put the book together.
In doing so, he discovered many of the articles he wrote were not digitally accessible anywhere. He purchased them all through newspapers.com to hold on to the copies.
The day Prince died, Walsh wrote a eulogy on his icon for Minnpost.com shortly after news broke. The eulogy itself can be found in Walsh’s first book, “Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mix Tapes: Jim Walsh on Music from Minneapolis to the Outer Limits.”
How incredible to write a eulogy for one of the most famous musicians in the world. And that, for Walsh, wasn’t even the pinnacle of his relationship with Prince.
Among reviews and critiques and visits to Prince’s Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., Prince also asked Walsh to write the liner notes for Prince’s September 1995 album, “The Gold Experience.”
As journalists, we are often told to remain objective. Objectiveness has a time and a place, but when you’re sharing the story of a star being born, how can you remain objective?
Walsh admits in the opening of his book he was not — something he realized rereading his articles.
“It’s clear I was always rooting for Prince, or defending him, and I wasn’t alone,” he wrote.
As a reporter who covers local entertainment, I admit looking back on my writing and sometimes being a little more sentimental about artists I care about.
Another interesting thing Walsh said at that event that stood out to me was comparing Prince’s energy and talent to Chance the Rapper, an independent music artist from Chicago who opened for the 2016 Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival and headlined this year’s Friday night lineup.
Walsh noted Prince despised music powerhouses like Warner Music, which signed him in the 1970s. In 1993, Prince, who wanted out of his contract with Warner, appeared publicly with the word “Slave” branded across his face. According to an article by The Guardian, Prince argued the company owned and controlled him and any music that came out under his name.
“Chance did exactly what Prince wanted — got to No. 1 album without any help from the mainstream,” Walsh said at the event.
Walsh, who grew up listening to and falling in love with music, said writing about it got to be a “review, preview, interview treadmill” that watered the musical aspects down.
I’m young in what I hope to be a long career in the entertainment field, but I can relate. I hope to use his words to remind myself to appreciate the music each artist makes. And hopefully, a few years down the road, to find my own Prince.